K2 Expedition 2018

Jake’s K2 blog #23: A miserable day of climbing… but with good omens

Lower C2 (6581m) to C3 (7350m).

Yikes – this was a big, and pretty miserable day of climbing!

We were always going to be starting somewhat at a disadvantage, as we were around 80m below normal C2, and we’d have to climb House’s Chimney to get there.

House’s Chimney is one of the most famous sections of climbing on the Abruzzi route. First climbed by Bill House on the American 1938 expedition it represents on of the most difficult single sections. It is a narrow chimney (at points not much more than 2 ft wide) and around 80ft high. There is a metal hand ladder running the total length of the Chimney, but I’ve always found this as much of a hinderance as a help, as many of the rungs are broken, twisted or damaged. There is of course a nice new rope which you can clip your ascender onto, which should prevent you from falling if you slip. It wasn’t lost on any of us that this is exactly where Serge fell to his death only around 10 days earlier.

As I’d climbed the Chimney a number of times on my previous expedition, I decided to make this ascent a bit more interesting. I specifically neglected to use the ladder at all, relying purely on actual climbing skills (it is a chimney after all) to make my ascent. To capture the climb for posterity, I also had the new GoPro 360 Fusion camera attached to my chest and a Hero 5 Black on the top of my helmet. I tried my best not to swear or whimper like a little girl as I slithered my way up the chimney!

We passed through main C2, and continued the climbing up towards C3. This section of the climb takes us through the ‘Black Pyramid’, which again is another famous and difficult section of climbing on the Abruzzi Spur. It also wasn’t helped by the fact that the weather started to change quite dramatically, and what started out as a relatively fine and clear day as we left Lower Camp 2 changed rapidly into a snowy, windy and squally day. In certain sections there were rivers of snow and ice crystals pouring down the route, instantly filling the footsteps of the person in front of you and making for very difficult and exhausting going, as you felt like you were swimming through granulated sugar.

There were a couple more very steep sections of rock, some of which also had old metal ladders in place, but like the ladder in House’s Chimney, these weren’t always helpful, and most people avoided them.

As you got out of the Black Pyramid, there is a steep solid ice bergshrund which also proves to be quite a challenge to overcome. Whilst again there is a fixed rope providing a safely line, the ice is so hard you really have to kick your front points of your crampons into it to get even the slightest purchase.

Once over this, you then find yourself in a long snow slope, which whilst it’s a nice respite from the sheer ice before, it represents an interminable slog to get into C3 (7350m). Not helped by the lack of visibility from the whistle out, and the blown snow filling the steps of the person in front (by this stage, I was number 3 in the line of climbers, and the two in front of me were some way ahead), this section became the most tiring part of the whole day. The bright orange rope disappeared into the white horizon, and every false summit yielded more rope to follow, and no familiar and comforting shapes of tents representing C3. I was aware that C3 was higher than it had previously been (avalanches had killed a father son Team here in 2013, and wiped out the camps in 2015 and 2016), and in a slightly more protected place, but with limited visibility it felt like you were just walking into the night. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that the route into C3 has a finite number of steps. Every step I made got me a little closer to my goal. If I stopped and rested, that was fine, but it wasn’t getting me any closer to C3.

Eventually in the murk up ahead I spotted the outline of a yellow tent – hooray! 15 minutes of hard slog and I collapsed into C3, exhausted but delighted to have arrived. Approximately 50m higher than the previous C3s I’ve stayed in on K2, this is now the highest I’ve ever slept on this mountain. Hopefully a good omen for things to come.

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